School Yard Bar and Grill
1815 East Kenilworth Place, Milwaukee WI 53202 (map); 414-291-8990; schoolyardmke.com/
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Brand new bar in a nightlife hotspot focuses their menu on burgers with unusual toppings and bold flavors
Want Fries With That? Fries are standard seasoned waffle fries; try the chips or slaw if they don't interest you
Price: The Bully burger, $9; The Country Boy/Gal burger, $9; Queso Dip, $6
Located on a stretch of road lined with crowded bars and late-night eats is School Yard Bar and Grill, one of the newest kids on the block. While they won't be turning away the bar crawl crowd, they're also focusing more heavily on the food they serve, and burgers in particular.
The menu is divided into three categories: apps, tacos, and burgers. You'd expect there to be a bit of a disconnect between those three things, but there are many crossover ingredients and elements, making the menu more cohesive than you might imagine.
It also paves the way for some uncommon burger toppings. The Country Boy/Gal burger ($9), for instance, is topped with pulled achiote-seasoned duck, roasted corn relish, and adobo sauce. Incidentally, this is the second burger in a row I've tried with duck, and this was much better than the last. The duck was tender and succulent, the texture of a soft pulled pork.
The thick adobo sauce added tang and a mild spice to cut through the richness of the duck. The corn relish and a sprinkling of queso fresco were largely unnoticeable on the burger, but they added a visual appeal to all that annatto-stained food.
The beef was hand pattied and coarsely ground, though I'm not so sure they're using a scale to weigh out the advertised half-pound of beef; they seemed to be on the skimpy side. The beef in both burgers I ordered was cooked past my requested medium, but it remained tender and was seasoned well. Toppings helped make up for any lack of moisture in the beef, especially the moist duck.
Toppings on the Bully burger ($9) were more common—cheddar, bacon, roasted garlic mayo, and a fried egg—but were also mostly done well. The super thick-cut bacon ate more like smoky ham than crisp bacon, though that's not a complaint. The thick coating of roasted garlic mayo tasted incredibly strong on its own, but it blended well when eaten with the rest of the burger. I would've preferred the egg to be over easy instead of over hard, but hopefully that will come as the kitchen gains more experience. The buns should stay; the yellow bread was soft but sturdy and held up to the messy toppings.
Also noteworthy: The Teacher's Pet burger comes topped with peanut butter mayo. I asked to try it, and it's quite good, though not as creamy as I'd expect anything with "mayo" in its name to be. It's more like an Asian peanut sauce, and I imagine I'd like it better than just straight PB on a burger.
Burgers come with your choice of waffle fries, chips, or slaw. The waffle fries were pretty standard and came seasoned with coarse salt, which was a little too much on top of the already-seasoned coating. I'll try the slaw next time.
I did enjoy sopping up the last of the queso dip app ($6) with the fries. A soup crock of thick cheese sauce with lots of peppers and tomatoes came with a huge pile of freshly-fried tortilla chips. It definitely feeds a crowd.
The flavors and foundation of fantastic burgs are there, but you can tell this bar hasn't been open long and they're a little rough around the edges. Our server was clearly brand new and was learning the ropes, too. With a little more time and experience, I think School Yard might have staying power.